Before Adele was Rolling in the Deep or knew how to Set Fire to the Rain, even before Whitney wanted to Dance With Somebody and Mariah had a Vision of Love there was Phyllis. Phyllis Linda Hyman undoubtedly one of the great singers of a time gone past. A tall (she stood 6’2) and beautiful woman, she had a voice so unique. Growing up I was no stranger to the sultry singing of Miss Hyman, her voice deep and soothing was amazing. The words she sang seemed to be coming from a place so deep within that it made each song that much more intense, spine tingling and bone chilling none the less.
Phyllis suffered from bi-polarism and depression, I remember the day she committed suicide, June 30, 1995 just seven days shy of her 46th birthday. I sat with my aunt listening to the radio as they talked about her life and played some of her greatest hits. The list including her first top ten single “Can’t We Fall in Love Again” released in 1981, “Living All Alone” (my personal favorite) off her 1981 album with the same title and “Old Friend”. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I watched her UnSung on TVONE did I understood why she could sing with such conviction. She was a tormented soul, she sang from her pain and it was something you could feel, a voice like hers could never be duplicated. She reminds me of the late and great Bille Holiday, two women with such great talent yet so many demons.
“Why Phyllis killed herself …” This question has been asked of me time and time again. I always respond with the short answer, which is : only Phyllis *really* knows why she killed herself. However, for those of you who may be able to relate to my *feelings* about what her motivations were, I will share my feelings with you… First, let me start by saying that within two hours after Phyllis’ death, she visited me in my office. When I heard her laughing, I asked her the very question you have asked me — to which she responded “Because no one believed that I would.” I then asked her, “But, do you see all of the chaos and confusion that your death has created?” She said, “Handle it!” Then she giggled and left as suddenly as she arrived. Phyllis had a philosophy about life, death and her body. Simply, she felt that because it was her life, it was also her death. Because it was her body, she had the right to do with it as she chose, including leaving it behind when she was ready to. Although she was not a member of the Hemlock Society, she was very clear that suicide was indeed an option for those whose lives could not be managed successfully because there was just too much pain : emotionally, physically and spiritually. “
Something about today, maybe it’s the sound of the rain or the calming mood that the dark clouds hanging overhead create that has me feeling Phyllis. As I sit here, her voice invading my thoughts I am in a very calm place. I am not reflecting on her death or her demons but her greatness and the music she left behind. I have added some of my favorite songs for your listening pleasure in hopes that your mind, like mine will drift to a place of peace.
Happy Birthday Phyllis!
Watch TVONE’s UnSung Phyllis Hyman episode here. www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIXIqoeusQs